Shawnee Dispatch

Mayor's Christmas Tree Lighting, Christmas Around Town sees one of biggest crowds ever

This year saw one of the biggest crowds ever, thanks in part to the weather, as people came out for hot chocolate and to watch performers from around the community sing Christmas songs. Enlarge photo

December 6, 2015

One of the biggest crowds ever came out for this year's Mayor's Christmas Tree Lighting and Chrismas Around Town events on Saturday.

Hundreds packed the Shawnee City Hall parking lot on the corner of Johnson Drive and Nieman Road to watch Mayor Michelle Distler turn on her first Christmas tree. She had help from Shawnee resident Robbie Marts, who flipped the traditional switch to turn on the tree lights. The tree was donated by longtime Shawnee residents Phil and Judy Murray.

Distler also presented Shawnee Community Services with this year's Mayor's Christmas Tree Fund worth more than $15,000.

The Mayor's Christmas Tree Fund has donated more than $130,000 to local charities since 2005 when Mayor Jeff Meyers began the fund.

Shawnee Community Services Executive Director and Sylvia Terry and Volunteer Coordinator Marliza VanKemseke were "blown away" by the donation. Shawnee Community Services is a food pantry founded in Shawnee by Evelyn VanKemseke more than 30 years ago. Evelyn VanKemseke died last month at the age of 87, but Distler was able to let VanKemseke know about the donation earlier this year.

Distler spoke to the crowd at Saturday's event about Evelyn VanKemseke and how much she meant to the community. Distler said she remembered the ribbon cutting for the Shawnee Community Services building several years ago and Evelyn VanKemseke's incredibly humble spirit.

"She gave all the credit to God," Distler said. "She said she was just a vessel to help others."

Evelyn VanKemseke's daughters, Terry and Marlisa VanKemseke, said the gift will only continue to help them continue their mother's legacy.

"We were seriously speechless," Terry said after receiving the check. "We'd like to thank everyone for their generosity."

Shawnee Community Services provided more than 400 meals to needy families on Thanksgiving and plan to feed more than 300 families over the Christmas holiday.

After the tree was lit, the crowd of hundreds migrated down Johnson Drive to Shawnee Town 1929 where they took pictures with Santa, Olaf the snowman from Disney's Frozen and other Christmas characters. Horse-drawn carriages carried people around the museum grounds and carolers sang classic Christmas carols to the many people ready for the holiday season.

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